"You know, some days I get so frustrated I just want to go up to the closest black person and say, `You can't understand this, it's a white thing,' and then slap him, just for my mental health."
Outrageous, right? No one said it. But what I wrote, only with the races switched, is what a black New York City Council member, Charles Barron, did say.
Lest there be any confusion, here are Barron's exact words: "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, `You can't understand this, it's a black thing' and then slap him, just for my mental health."
Barron, whose mental health may indeed be in question, made his remark during a reparations rally in Washington, D.C., this past Sunday. He was joined by other black activists, Louis Farrakhan and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has been pursuing the slavery reparations issue in Congress. Conyers has introduced legislation HR 40 ("Commission to Study Reparations Proposals for African-Americans Act"), which proposes studying the effects of slavery on black Americans and authorizes appropriations.
Farrakhan, temperate by Barron's standard, told the crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 protesters, "America owes the black people a lot for what they've endured." He didn't mention whether the $6 trillion spent on the War on Poverty since 1965 would be considered a down payment.
To chants of "Black power!" "Reparations!" and "Start the revolution!" Farrakhan called for "land for political independence, we need millions of acres. ... We need payment for 310 years of slavery, of destruction of our minds and the robbery of our culture."
When he alluded to "destruction of our minds," I'm guessing Farrakhan was referring to Barron's own mental health. Perhaps his issues are so severe, we should ignore Barron's need to slap white people. Indeed, when someone says something so blatantly inflammatory and patently offensive in a public forum, it's tempting to ignore him. But an elected representative in the nation's largest city can't be ignored. He is real, and his words matter.
Presumably, Barron meant that white people couldn't understand how blacks feel about reparations, about having been descended of slaves, about having suffered racial discrimination. And while this is true to the same degree that I can't understand what it's like to die until I do, whites and other non-blacks have proved by the laws we live under that they both understand the necessity of freedom and human dignity and are willing to fight and die for both.
Mr. Barron, your slap has been received and acknowledged.
As to reparations, one can reasonably argue against them without being racist or needing slap therapy. Although only the bravest blacks -columnist Walter Williams among them -would dare protest reparations, no doubt many see the illogic behind such demands.
First, when reparations activists insist that the U.S. government pay reparations, one has to wonder: whom would we pay and with whose money? No one living today has been either a slaveholder or a slave. If present governments -by which we mean, "we the people" -owe the descendants of long-dead victims for
past wrongs, there's no end to the list or the payoff.
Second, it's not as though The Government is some independent entity with an infinite wallet. What the government has is what it takes from me. And you. So let's get this straight: We who have never owned a slave, who have never believed in or condoned slavery, who are not descended from anyone who ever owned a slave must pay people who have never been slaves?
The search for logic in the reparations argument is futile. What is not futile is our ongoing struggle for national unity, and these guys do not appear to be on our side. Urging racial disharmony and slinging segregationist rhetoric, which would never be tolerated from whites, is arrogant, self-serving and, frankly, ignorant.
Barron's wish to slap a white guy, meanwhile, may come true. Michael Graham, a friend and radio talk show host of Washington, D.C.'s WTNT (www.wtntam570.com), has written Barron, inviting him to slap him in exchange for a serious debate on reparations.
Wrote Graham: "This is a one-time, one-slap offer. And given that our goal is a rigorous, intelligent discussion, perhaps you should slap me BEFORE the interview to ensure you will be at your mental best."
At this writing, Barron had not responded to Graham's invitation. Stay tuned.